We may admit the mercenary views of the bookseller, and the vanity of the auction-bidder; but in all this lucre-seeking research, and mean-motivated ambition, the treasures of antiquity are dug up, preserved, exposed to the eyes of those who know how to employ them in diving through their pages, while their contents are discussed and kept in memory for the occasion to which they are applicable.
Capel, Steevens, Reed, Malone, and Ritson, long since saw the value of such stores in the illustration of Shakespeare — And what would have been Percy's Reliques, or Warton's History of Poetry, without them? These fortunate Collectors lived in times when these treasures were of easier access to the initiated. But though it might be pleasanter to their own vanity to have the monopoly of all these materials for research, it is not presumptuous to wish to see them opened to the industry and sagacity of fresh minds. The minutiae of literary history, though no one pretends to put them among the prime and most important studies of human life, are now for the first time treated with contempt, as derogatory to the fame of the age.
A moderate quantity of industry, with a memory tenacious of trifles, may, it is true, qualify a man to be a tolerably useful pioneer in this kind of work. But so it is, that these tasks have not in general been taken up by persons of such a character. Mr. Dibdin is a man apparently of a very lively mind; the glance of his ideas is rapid; he expatiates, analyses, and combines; and if he now and then, in drawing forth the infinite hoards of his memory, commits a trifling error, is he to be clamoured against because in thousands of names and figures he is not quite infallible? The Bibliomania appears to me a very wonderful instance of the powers of mental digression — To bring into so narrow a compass, in an order so lucid, materials so very copious, drawn from sources so recondite and scattered, is a work utterly beyond the reach of vulgar powers, or vulgar attainments.